The Great Conspiracy

“Impressed by these circumstances and considerations, I earnestly
besought you to allow the concentration, at this city, of a
sufficient military force to preserve the public peace from all the
dangers that seemed to threaten it. An open manifestation, on the
part of the Administration, of a determination, as well as of the
ability, to maintain the laws, would, I was convinced, prove the
surest, as also the most pacific, means of baffling and dissolving
any Conspiracy that might have been organized. It was believed too
that the highest and most solemn responsibility resting upon a
President withdrawing from the Government, was to secure to his
successor a peaceful Inauguration. So deeply, in my judgment, did
this duty concern the whole Country and the fair fame of our
Institutions, that, to guarantee its faithful discharge, I was
persuaded no preparation could be too determined or too complete.
The presence of the troops alluded to in the resolution is the
result of the conclusion arrived at by yourself and Cabinet, on the
proposition submitted to you by this Department. Already this
display of life and loyalty on the part of your Administration, has
produced the happiest effects. Public confidence has been
restored, and the feverish apprehension which it was so mortifying
to contemplate has been banished. Whatever may have been the
machinations of deluded, lawless men, the execution of their
purpose has been suspended, if not altogether abandoned in view of
preparations which announce more impressively than words that this
Administration is alike able and resolved to transfer in peace, to
the President elect, the authority that, under the Constitution,
belongs to him. To those, if such there be, who desire the
destruction of the Republic, the presence of these troops is
necessarily offensive; but those who sincerely love our
Institutions cannot fail to rejoice that, by this timely precaution
they have possibly escaped the deep dishonor which they must have
suffered had the Capital, like the Forts and Arsenals of the South,
fallen into the hands of the Revolutionists, who have found this
great Government weak only because, in the exhaustless beneficence
of its spirit, it has refused to strike, even in its own defense,
lest it should wound the aggressor.

“I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“Secretary of War,

“THE PRESIDENT.”] On February 20th, Forts Chadbourne and Belknap were seized by the Texan
Rebels; and on the 22nd, the Federal General Twiggs basely surrendered
to them all the fortifications under his control, his little Army, and
all the Government stores in his possession–comprising $55,000 in
specie, 35,000 stand of arms, 26 pieces of mounted artillery, 44
dismounted guns, and ammunition, horses, wagons, forage, etc., valued at
nearly $2,000,000.

On the 2nd of March, the Texan Rebels seized the United States Revenue
cutter “Dodge” at Galveston; and on the 6th, Fort Brown was surrendered
to them.

Thus, with surrender after surrender, and seizure after
seizure, of its revenue vessels and fortifications and troops and arms
and munitions of war in the Southern States–with Fort Sumter invested
and at the mercy of any attack, and Fortress Monroe alone of all the
National strongholds yet safe–with State after State seceding–what
wonder that, while these events gave all encouragement to the Southern
Rebels, the Patriots of the North stood aghast at the appalling
spectacle of a crumbling and dissolving Union!

During this period of National peril, the debates in both branches of
Congress upon propositions for adjustment of the unfortunate differences
between the Southern Seceders and the Union, as has been already hinted,
contributed still further to agitate the public mind. Speech after
speech by the ablest and most brilliant Americans in public life, for or
against such propositions, and discussing the rightfulness or
wrongfulness of Secession, were made in Congress day after day, and, by
means of the telegraph and the press, alternately swayed the Northern
heart with feelings of hope, chagrin, elation or despair.

The Great Debate was opened in the Senate on almost the very first day
of its session (December 4th, 1860), by Mr. Clingman, of North Carolina,
who, referring to South Carolina, declared that “Instead of being
precipitate, she and the whole South have been wonderfully patient.” A
portion of that speech is interesting even at this time, as showing how
certain phases of the Tariff and Internal Improvement questions entered
into the consideration of some of the Southern Secession leaders. Said
he, “I know there are intimations that suffering will fall upon us of
the South, if we secede. My people are not terrified by any such
considerations. * * * They have no fears of the future if driven to
rely on themselves. The Southern States have more territory than all
the Colonies had when they Seceded from Great Britain, and a better
territory. Taking its position, climate, and fertility into
consideration, there is not upon Earth a body of territory superior to
it. * * * The Southern States have, too, at this day, four times the
population the Colonies had when they Seceded from Great Britain. Their
exports to the North and to Foreign Countries were, last year, more than
$300,000,000; and a duty of ten per cent. upon the same amount of
imports would give $30,000,000 of revenue–twice as much as General
Jackson’s administration spent in its first year. Everybody can see,
too, how the bringing in of $300,000,000 of imports into Southern ports
would enliven business in our seaboard towns. I have seen with some
satisfaction, also, Mr. President, that the war made upon us has
benefitted certain branches of industry in my State. There are
manufacturing establishments in North Carolina, the proprietors of which
tell me that they are making fifty per cent. annually on their whole
capital, and yet cannot supply one tenth of the demand for their
production. The result of only ten per cent. duties in excluding
products from abroad, would give life and impetus to mechanical and
manufacturing industry, throughout the entire South. Our people
understand these things, and they are not afraid of results, if forced
to declare Independence. Indeed I do not see why Northern Republicans
should wish to continue a connection with us upon any terms. * * *
They want High Tariff likewise. They may put on five hundred per cent.
if they choose, upon their own imports, and nobody on our side will
complain. They may spend all the money they raise on railroads, or
opening harbors, or anything on earth they desire, without interference
from us; and it does seem to me that if they are sincere in their views
they ought to welcome a separation.”

From the very commencement of this long three-months debate, it was the
policy of the Southern leaders to make it appear that the Southern
States were in an attitude of injured innocence and defensiveness
against Northern aggression. Hence, it was that, as early as December
5th, on the floor of the Senate, through Mr. Brown, of Mississippi, they
declared: “All we ask is to be allowed to depart in Peace. Submit we
will not; and if, because we will not submit to your domination, you
choose to make War upon us, let God defend the Right!”

At the same time it was esteemed necessary to try and frighten the North
into acquiescence with this demand to be “let alone.” Hence such
utterances as those of Clingman and Iverson, to which reference has
already been made, and the especially defiant close of the latter’s
speech, when–replying to the temperate but firm Union utterances of Mr.
Hale–the Georgia Senator said: “Sir, I do not believe there will be any
War; but if War is to come, let it come; we will meet the Senator from
New Hampshire and all the myrmidons of Abolitionism and Black
Republicanism everywhere upon our own soil; and, in the language of a
distinguished member from Ohio in relation to the Mexican War, we will
‘welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves.'”

On the other hand, in order to encourage the revolting States to the
speedy commission of overt acts of Rebellion and violence, that would
precipitate War without a peradventure, utterances fell from Southern
lips, in the National Senate Chamber, like those of Mr. Wigfall, when he
said, during this first day of the debate: “Frederick the Great, on one
occasion, when he had trumped up an old title to some of the adjacent
territory, quietly put himself in possession and then offered to treat.
Were I a South Carolinian, as I am a Texan, and I knew that my State was
going out of the Union, and that this Government would attempt to use
force, I would, at the first moment that that fact became manifest,
seize upon the Forts and the arms and the munitions of war, and raise
the cry ‘To your tents, O Israel, and to the God of battles be this

And, as we have already seen, the Rebels of the South were not slow in
following the baleful advice to the letter. But it was not many days
after this utterance when the Conspirators against the Union evidently
began to fear that the ground for Rebellion, upon which they had planted
themselves, would be taken from under their feet by the impulse of
Compromise and Concession which stirred so strongly the fraternal spirit
of the North. That peaceful impulse must be checked and exasperated by
sneers and impossible demands. Hence, on December 12th we find one of
the most active and favorite mouthpieces of Treason, Mr. Wigfall,
putting forth such demands, in his most offensive manner.

Said he: “If the two Senators from New York (Seward and King), the
Senator from Ohio (Wade), the two Senators from Illinois (Douglas and
Trumbull), the Senator from New Hampshire (Hale), the Senator from
Maine, and others who are regarded as representative men, who have
denied that by the Constitution of the United States, Slaves are
recognized as Property; who have urged and advocated those acts which we
regard as aggressive on the part of the People–if they will rise here,
and say in their places, that they desire to propose amendments to the
Constitution, and beg that we will vote for them; that they will, in
good faith, go to their respective constituencies and urge the
ratification; that they believe, if these Gulf States will suspend their
action, that those amendments will be ratified and carried out in good
faith; that they will cease preaching this ‘irrepressible conflict’; and
if, in those amendments, it is declared that Slaves are Property, that
they shall be delivered up upon demand; and that they will assure us
that Abolition societies shall be abolished; that Abolition speeches
shall no longer be made; that we shall have peace and quiet; that we
shall not be called cut-throats and pirates and murderers; that our
women shall not be slandered–these things being said in good faith, the
Senators begging that we will stay our hand until an honest effort can
be made, I believe that there is a prospect of giving them a fair

Small wonder is it, that this labored and ridiculous piece of
impertinence was received with ironical laughter on the Republican side
of the Senate Chamber. And it was in reference to these threats, and
these preposterous demands–including the suppression of the right of
Free Discussion and Liberty of the Press–that, in the same chamber
(January 7, 1861) the gallant and eloquent Baker said:

“Your Fathers had fought for that right, and more than that, they had
declared that the violation of that right was one of the great causes
which impelled them to the Separation. * * * Sir, the Liberty of the
Press is the highest safeguard to all Free Government. Ours could not
exist without it. It is with us, nay, with all men, like a great
exulting and abounding river, It is fed by the dews of Heaven, which
distil their sweetest drops to form it. It gushes from the rill, as it
breaks from the deep caverns of the Earth. It is fed by a thousand
affluents, that dash from the mountaintop to separate again into a
thousand bounteous and irrigating rills around. On its broad bosom it
bears a thousand barks. There, Genius spreads its purpling sail.
There, Poetry dips its silver oar. There, Art, Invention, Discovery,
Science, Morality, Religion, may safely and securely float. It wanders
through every land. It is a genial, cordial source of thought and
inspiration, wherever it touches, whatever it surrounds. Sir, upon its
borders, there grows every flower of Grace and every fruit of Truth. I
am not here to deny that that Stream sometimes becomes a dangerous
Torrent, and destroys towns and cities upon its bank; but I am here to
say that without it, Civilization, Humanity, Government, all that makes
Society itself, would disappear, and the World would return to its
ancient Barbarism.

“Sir, if that were to be possible, or so thought for a moment, the fine
conception of the great Poet would be realized. If that were to be
possible, though but for a moment, Civilization itself would roll the
wheels of its car backward for two thousand years. Sir, if that were
so, it would be true that:

‘As one by one in dread Medea’s train,
Star after Star fades off th’ ethereal plain,
Thus at her fell approach and secret might,
Art after art goes out, and all is night.
Philosophy, that leaned on Heaven before,
Sinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,
And, unawares, Morality expires.’

“Sir, we will not risk these consequences, even for Slavery; we will not
risk these consequences even for Union; we will not risk these
consequences to avoid that Civil War with which you threaten us; that
War which, you announce so deadly, and which you declare to be
inevitable. * * * I will never yield to the idea that the great
Government of this Country shall protect Slavery in any Territory now
ours, or hereafter to be acquired. It is, in my opinion, a great
principle of Free Government, not, to be surrendered.

“It is in my judgment, the object of the great battle which we have
fought, and which we have won. It is, in my poor opinion, the point
upon which there is concord and agreement between the great masses of
the North, who may agree in no other political opinion whatever. Be he
Republican, or Democrat, or Douglas man, or Lincoln man; be he from the
North, or the West, from Oregon, or from Maine, in my judgment nine-
tenths of the entire population of the North and West are devoted, in
the very depths of their hearts, to the great Constitutional idea that
Freedom is the rule, that Slavery is the exception, that it ought not to
be extended by virtue of the powers of the Government of the United
States; and, come weal, come woe, it never shall be.

“But, sir, I add one other thing. When you talk to me about Compromise
or Concession, I am not sure that I always understand you. Do you mean
that I am to give up my convictions of right? Armies cannot compel that
in the breast of a Free People. Do you mean that I am to concede the
benefits of the political struggle through which we have passed,
considered politically, only? You are too just and too generous to ask
that. Do you mean that we are to deny the great principle upon which
our political action has been based? You know we cannot. But if you
mean by Compromise and Concession to ask us to see whether we have not
been hasty, angry, passionate, excited, and in many respects violated
your feelings, your character, your right of property, we will look;
and, as I said yesterday, if we have, we will undo it. Allow me to say
again, if there be any lawyer or any Court that will advise us that our
laws are unconstitutional, we will repeal them.

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